The Annotated Bushido


Summary / Notes


Chapter II


of which I may begin with Buddhism. [1905 start: I may begin with Buddhism.] It furnished a sense of calm trust in Fate, a quiet submission to the inevitable, that stoic composure in sight of danger or calamity, that disdain of life and friendliness with death. A foremost teacher of swordsmanship, when he saw his pupil master the utmost of his art, told him, "Beyond this my instruction must give way to Zen teaching." "Zen" is the Japanese equivalent for the Dhyâna, which "represents human effort to reach through meditation zones of thought beyond the range of verbal expression." Its method is contemplation, and its purport, as far as I understand it, to be convinced of a principle that underlies all phenomena, and, if it can, of the Absolute itself, and thus to put oneself in harmony with this Absolute. Thus defined, the teaching was more than the dogma of a sect, and whoever attains to the perception of the Absolute raises himself above mundane things and awakes [1905 deletion: like Teufelsdröckh,] "to a new Heaven and a new Earth."

What Buddhism failed to give, Shintoism offered in abundance. Such loyalty to the sovereign, such reverence for ancestral memory, and such filial piety as are not taught by any other creed, were inculcated by the Shinto doctrines, imparting passivity to the otherwise arrogant character of the samurai. Shinto theology has no place for the dogma of "original sin;" On the contrary, [1905: "original sin." On the contrary,] it believes in the innate goodness and God-like purity of the human soul, adoring it as the adytum from which divine oracles are proclaimed. Everybody has observed that the Shinto shrines are conspicuously devoid of objects and instruments of worship, and that a plain mirror hung in the sanctuary forms the essential part of its furnishing. The presence of this article, is easy to explain: it typifies the human heart, which, when perfectly placid and clear, reflects the very image of the Deity. When you stand, therefore, in front of the shrine to worship, you see your own image reflected on its shining surface, and the act of worship is tantamount to the old Delphic injunction, "Know Thyself." But self-knowledge does not imply, either in the Greek or Japanese teaching, knowledge of the physical part of man, not his anatomy or his psycho-physics; knowledge was to be of a moral kind, the introspection of our moral nature. Mommsen, comparing the Greek and the Roman, says that when the former worshipped he raised his eyes to heaven, for his prayer was contemplation, while the latter veiled his head, for his was reflection. Essentially like the Roman conception of religion, our reflection brought into prominence not so much the moral as the national consciousness of the individual. Its nature-worship endeared the country to our inmost souls, while its ancestor-worship, tracing from lineage to lineage, made the Imperial family the fountain-head of the whole nation. To us the country is more than land and soil from which to mine gold or to reap grain--it is the sacred abode of the gods, the spirits of our forefathers: to us the Emperor is more than the Arch Constable of a Rechtsstaat, or even the Patron of a Culturstaat--he is the bodily representative of Heaven on earth, blending in his person its power and its mercy. If what M. Boutmy says is true of English royalty--that it "is not only the image of authority, but the author and symbol of national unity," as I believe it to be, doubly and trebly may this be affirmed of royalty in Japan.

The tenets of Shintoism cover the two predominating features of the emotional life of our race--Patriotism and Loyalty [1905: the emotional life of our race.--Patriotism and Loyalty]. Arthur May Knapp very truly says: "In Hebrew literature it is often difficult to tell whether the writer is speaking of God or of the Commonwealth; of heaven or of Jerusalem; of the Messiah or of the nation [1905: Nation] itself." A similar confusion may be noticed in the nomenclature of our national faith. I said confusion, because it will be so deemed by a logical intellect on account of its verbal ambiguity; still, being a framework [1905: frame work] of national instinct and race feelings, it never pretends to a systematic philosophy or a rational theology. This religion--or, is it not more correct to say, the race emotions which this religion expressed,--[1905: emotions which this religion expressed?--] thoroughly imbued Bushido with loyalty to the sovereign and love of country. These acted more as impulses than as doctrines. [1905: more as impulses than as doctrines; for Shintoism, unlike the Mediaeval Christian Church, prescribed to its votaries scarcely any credenda, furnishing them at the same time with agenda of a straightforward and simple type.]

As to strictly ethical doctrines, the teachings of Confucius were the most prolific source of Bushido. His enunciation of the five moral relations between master and servant (the governing and the governed), father and son, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and between friend and friend, was but a confirmation of what the race instinct had recognized before his writings were introduced from China. The calm, benignant, and comfortable [1905: calm, benignant and worldly-wise] character of his politico-ethical precepts was particularly well suited to the samurai, who formed the ruling class. His aristocratic and conservative tone was well adapted to the requirements of these warrior statesmen. Next to Confucius, Mencius exercised an immense authority over Bushido. His forcible and often quite democratic theories were exceedingly taking to sympathetic natures, and they were even thought dangerous to, and subversive of, the existing social order, hence his works were for a long time under censure. Still, the words of this master mind found permanent lodgment in the heart of the samurai.

The writings of Confucius and Mencius formed the principal text-books for youths and the highest authority in discussion among the old. A mere acquaintance with the classics of these two sages was held, however, in no high esteem. A common proverb ridicules one who has only an intellectual knowledge of Confucius, as a man ever studious but ignorant of Analects. A typical samurai calls a literary savant a book-smelling sot. Another compares learning to an ill-smelling vegetable that must be boiled and boiled before it is fit for use. A man who has read little smells a little pedantic, and a man who has read much smells yet more so; both are alike unpleasant. The writer meant thereby that knowledge becomes really such only when it is assimilated in the mind of the learner and shows in his character. An intellectual specialist was considered a machine. Intellect itself was considered subordinate to ethical emotion. Man and the universe were conceived to be alike spiritual and ethical. Bushido could not accept the judgment of Huxley, that the cosmic process was immoral [1905: unmoral].

Bushido made light of knowledge as such. It was not pursued as an end in itself, but as a means to the attainment of wisdom. Hence, he who stopped short of this end was regarded no higher than a convenient machine, which could turn out poems and maxims at bidding. Thus, knowledge was conceived as identical with its practical application in life; and this Socratic doctrine found its greatest exponent in the Chinese philosopher, Wan Yang-Ming [1905: Wan Yang Ming], who never wearies of repeating, "To know and to act are one and the same."

I beg leave for a moment's digression while I am on this subject, inasmuch as some of the noblest types of bushi were strongly influenced by the teachings of this sage. Western readers will easily recognize in his writings many parallels to the New Testament. Making allowance for the terms peculiar to either teaching, the passage, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you," conveys a thought that may be found on almost any page of Wan Yang-Ming [1905: Wan Yang Ming]. A Japanese disciple of his says--"The lord of heaven and earth, of all living beings, dwelling in the heart of man, becomes his mind (Kokoro); hence a mind is a living thing, and is ever luminous:" and again, "The spiritual light of our essential being is light [1905: is pure], and is not affected by the will of man. Spontaueously [1905: Spontaneously] springing up in our mind, it shows what is right and wrong: it is then called conscience; it is even the light that proceedeth from the god of heaven." How very much do these words sound like some passages from Isaac Pennington or other philosophic mystics! I am inclined to think that the Japanese mind, as expressed in the simple tenets of the Shinto religion, was particularly open to the reception of Yang-Ming's precepts [1905: Yang Ming's precepts]. He carried his doctrine of the infallibility of conscience to extreme transcendentalism, attributing to it the faculty to perceive, not only the distinction between right and wrong, but also the nature of psychical facts and physical phenomena. He went as far as, if not farther than, Berkeley and Fichte, in Idealism, denying the existence of things outside of human ken. If his system had all the logical errors charged to Solipsism, it had all the efficacy of strong conviction and its moral import in developing individuality of character and equanimity of temper cannot be gainsaid.

Thus, whatever the sources, the essential principles which Bushido imbibed from them and assimilated to itself, were few and simple. To the consideration of these we shall now address ourselves. I shall begin with [1905: Thus whatever the sources, the essential principles which Bushido imbibed from them and assimilated to itself, were few and simple. Few and simple as these were, they were sufficient to furnish a safe conduct of life even through the unsafest days of the most unsettled period of our nation's history. The wholesome, unsophisticated nature of our warrior ancestors derived ample food for their spirit from a sheaf of commonplace and fragmentary teachings, gleaned as it were on the highways and byways of ancient thought, and, stimulated by the demands of the age, formed from these gleanings anew and unique type of manhood. An acute French savant, M. de la Mazelière, thus sums up his impressions of the sixteenth century: "Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, all is confusion in Japan, in the government, in society, in the church. But the civil wars the manners returning to barbarism, the necessity for each to execute justice for himself,--these formed men comparable to those Italians of the sixteenth century, in whom Taine praises 'the vigorous initiative, the habit of sudden resolutions and desperate undertakings, the grand capacity to do and to suffer.' In Japan as in Italy 'the rude manners of the Middle Ages' made of man a superb animal, 'wholly militant and wholly resistant.' And this is why the sixteenth century displays in the highest degree the principal quality of the Japanese race, that great diversity which one finds there between minds (esprits) as well as between temperaments. While in India and even in China men seem to differ chiefly in degree of energy or intelligence, in Japan they differ by originality of character as well. Now, individuality is the sign of superior races and of civilizations already developed. If we make use of an expression dear to Nietzsche, we might say that in Asia, to speak of humanity is to speak of its plains; in Japan as in Europe, one represents it above all by its mountains."]

[1905, new paragraph: To the pervading characteristics of the men of whom M. de la Mazelière writes, let us now address ourselves. I shall begin with Rectitude.]   << continue >>



Nitobe here identifies three sources of bushidō: Buddhism, Shintoism, and Confucianism. The first, he says, gives the samurai his equanimity in the face of death; the second produces loyalty to the sovereign, reverence for ancestral memory, and filial piety; and the third constitutes the set of more strictly ethical tenets the samurai was expected to follow.

To a critically minded reader, the descriptions given by Nitobe for each source reveal a number of limitations. Buddhism, for example, is viewed solely from the perspective of Zen. Even if it is granted that this is the form of Buddhism most congenial to the samurai, some mention might be made of the other (perhaps less militarily congenial) forms of the religion. Nitobe's Shintoism seems to mix an essentially animistic -- and rather vaguely defined -- indigenous religion with ethical aspects of Confucianism, and to conflate the result with an ideal of personal loyalty that might more accurately be characterized as feudal rather than, say, aristocratic. Finally, Confucianism as practiced in China makes no claims for a hereditary ruling class of warriors (or for a ruler who can disregard the Mandate of Heaven), so that the Confucian hierarchy must be significantly adjusted to account for conditions in Japan. Nitobe was in fact criticized by Japanese scholars of the day for having an inadequate grasp of Japanese culture and history.

Nitobe's erudition is nonetheless formidable, and in making his arguments he is always careful to allow for possible abuses of the virtues he ascribes to the samurai; but this does not mean those arguments should go unchallenged, and later sections of the treatise will make it clear that, as a Christian, Nitobe himself ultimately questions the universal validity of bushidō as an ethical system.

The reference is to Yagyū Munenori (1571-1646), teacher of swordsmanship to the Tokugawa clan and one of the most famous swordsmen of the early Edo period.

Dhyāna (the usual modern orthography) is a Sanskrit word that refers to meditation or meditative states.

Lafcadio Hearn, Exotics and Retrospectives, p. 84. [Nitobe's note]

A subsequently deleted reference to Professor Teufelsdröckh in Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus: The Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh (1833-34). Curiously, the quotation itself -- from Chapter IX, "The Everlasting Yea," echoing Revelation 21:1 -- remains in the 1905 edition, while the direct reference to Carlyle's character has been removed. Squeamishness, perhaps, over the "devil's dung" meaning?

The innermost sanctuary of a temple.

The Delphic Oracle was the priestess of Apollo at Delphi, on the lower southern slopes of Mount Parnassus (the word "oracle" can also be used to refer to the place itself). The Delphic Oracle revealed Apollo's will by making obscure prophecies.

Theodor Mommsen (Christian Matthias Theodor Mommsen, 1817-1903) was a German classicist and politician whose work influenced the development of the German civil code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch).

The English People, p. 188. [Nitobe's note, 1905] Emile Gaston Boutmy (1835-1906) was a French political scientist and sociologist who wrote Essai d'une psychologie politique du peuple anglais au XIXe siècle (Essay on the Political Psychology of the People in 19th Century England) in 1901. An English translation with the title The English People: A Study of Their Political Psychology was published by G. P. Putnam's Sons in 1904.

Arthur May Knapp (1841-1921) was a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who traveled to Japan in 1887 as a representative of the American Unitarian Association. A second trip followed beginning in 1889, and in 1900 he returned again to edit the Japan Advertiser newspaper, apparently staying for 10 years. Feudal and Modern Japan was published by the J. Knight Company of Boston in 1896; a digitized version of the second edition of Volume II is available from the Internet Archive. Information about Knapp (some of it conflicting) can be found at both the Harvard Square Library site (which reproduces the entire four-volume Heralds of a Liberal Faith, vol. 1-3, 1901; vol. 4, 1952) and in the reprinted version of the 1902 book Unitarianism in America available from Project Gutenberg.

"Feudal and Modern Japan," Vol. I, p. 183. [Nitobe's note]

Confucius (or Kongzi, 551-479 BC; Kōshi in Japanese) was the creator of an ethical (and possibly religious) code or system that became dominant in China after about 220 BC. The emphasis was on the cultivation of virtue, governing by moral example, venerating one's ancestors, and observing correct social relationships.

Mencius (or Mengzi, 372-289 BC; Mōshi in Japanese) is perhaps the most famous Confucian philosopher next to Confucius himself. Mencius believed in an innate sense of human goodness that could be recovered through a process of self-cultivation.

The Analects (or The Analects of Confucius) is a collection of aphorisms attributed to Confucius that was compiled by his disciples in the years after his death. Its precise origin is uncertain.

A reference to Saigō Takamori (1827-1877), a key figure in the Meiji Restoration and leader of the Satsuma Rebellion of 1877, who in 1869 admonished a group of youths being sent to Kyoto to study the philosophy of Wang Yangming to avoid becoming "bookworms."

A reference to Miura Baien (1723-1789), a physician and Confucian philosopher who lived in Bungo province in what is now Ōita Prefecture in Kyushu.

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895) was an English biologist who actively promoted Darwin's theory of evolution.

Wang Yangming (1472-1528), whose name is missing the initial "g" in both the 1900 and 1905 editions of Bushido, was a Neo-Confucian scholar who emphasized the importance of intuitive knowledge and the unity of knowledge and action ("knowledge as action").

Matthew 6:33

Miwa Shissai. [Nitobe's note]  Miwa Shissai (1669-1774) was a Confucian scholar of the early and mid Edo period who began his career as a student of Zhu Xi (Chu Hsi, 1130-1200) Neo-Confucianism but later turned toward the philosophy of Wang Yangming.

Isaac Penington (1616-1679) was an early member of the Religious Society of Friends who found the answer to his personal spiritual quest in the Quaker faith. The Quaker Heritage Press has made his four-volume collected works available online. Nitobe spells his name incorrectly in both the 1900 and 1905 editions.

George Berkeley (1685-1753) was an Irish philosopher who stressed the immaterial nature of reality (the human mind can only know ideas and not objects); author of A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge (1710).

Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814) was a German philosopher who argued that consciousness was not grounded in anything outside of itself.

Antoine Rous de la Mazelière (1864-1937) wrote a monograph on the history of Japan (Essai sur l'histoire du Japon) in 1899, and an eight-volume history of Japan (Le Japon, histoire et civilisation) between 1907-23. Yale University Library contains copies of both; the latter is described here.

Hippolyte Adolphe Taine (1828-1893) was a French historian and critic best known for attempting to ground the interpretation of literature on the three elements of race, milieu, and moment.

The source is Taine’s Philosophie de l’art en Italie, a lecture first published in French in 1866. An English translation by John Durand, “The Philosophy of Art in Italy,” appeared in the second of a two-volume series entitled Lectures on Art, comprising a total of five lectures (Henry Holt, 1875).

Durand’s translation is available in an 1877 edition from the Internet Archive (pp. 105-106; later editions through 1901 all appear to have the same wording and pagination). Because Nitobe's quotation is so different, it is possible that he was relying on a different English source. Taine is discussing the Renaissance artist Benvenuto Cellini (1500-1571):

The first thing that strikes us in him is the power of inward force, the energetic and courageous character, the vigorous initiative, the habit of sadden resolve and of extreme measures, the great capacity of action and of suffering, in short, the indomitable force of an intact temperament.

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher who rejected the moral values of Christianity and advocated a heroic, life-affirming moral viewpoint.